In 2014, Narendra Modi powered the BJP to an unexpected landslide victory. That was the first time in around three decades when any party won a full majority on its own in the Lok Sabha polls. It was an unexpected victory for the BJP and the NDA because no opinion survey or exit poll had predicted 282 seats for the BJP and 336 for the NDA. Since then, several surveys have suggested that Modi’s popularity remains high; it has been the same case with the BJP as well. But lately things have changed. All recent opinion surveys indicate a sharp decline in Prime Minister Modi’s popularity and considerable erosion in support for the BJP and the NDA, particularly in small cities, towns and pre-dominantly rural constituencies.
Despite variations in seat and vote share projections for the BJP, Congress and their respective alliances – BJP-led NDA and Congress-led UPA – the broader conclusion of the surveys is that the BJP is unlikely to get an absolute majority on its own, while the Congress is gaining ground at the expense of the BJP. If a grand opposition alliance materialises then the outcome, according to surveys, is likely to put the BJP and the NDA on a back foot in terms of vote share, if not in terms of seats. While all surveys continue to peg Modi as the most favourable PM candidate, according to the latest mood of the nation survey done by Karvy for a leading media group, Modi’s approval rating has dipped below the crucial 50 per cent mark from the earlier high of 65 per cent in January 2017. On the other hand, Rahul Gandhi’s approval rating has risen from 10 per cent to 27 per cent during the same period.
The key takeaways from some of the recent surveys are in sharp contrast to the broader trends that the earlier surveys presented. Till about a year ago, both Modi and the BJP looked absolutely invincible. Now, according to projections done by multiple surveys, the BJP is expected to lose anywhere between 55 to 90 seats in 2019 from what it got in 2014. As a result, its seat tally is projected to come down from 282 in 2014 to anywhere between 194 and 227. Similarly, the projected tally of seats for the NDA would be between 228 and 281, depending on the alliances the Congress forms before the general elections. Based on the surveys, two major scenarios will determine the final outcome: one, the allies under NDA and UPA remain same as in 2014 and two, UPA allies with SP and BSP in Uttar Pradesh and TMC in West Bengal.
If the alliances remain same then the UPA is predicted to get about 122 seats (31 per cent vote share) against 281 seats of the NDA (vote share: 36 per cent), while others are projected to get 140 seats with 33 per cent vote share. However, if the UPA gets bigger with SP, BSP and TMC under the pre-poll umbrella then the NDA would get only 228 seats (vote share: 36 per cent), against 224 for the UPA with 41 per cent vote share and 91 seats for others (vote share: 23 per cent). The third possible scenario that will put the NDA little ahead of the UPA is an alliance in the south – AIADMK in Tamil Nadu and YSR Congress in Andhra Pradesh. With these two allies in its fold, the NDA will bag 255 seats with 41 per cent vote share, while the UPA is expected to get 242 seats (vote share: 43 per cent). Others will get 46 seats. However, the NDA’s tally could spike up to 282 seats if BJD and TRS join the post-poll alliance.
In all three scenarios, the NDA is marginally ahead of the UPA in terms of seats but not in terms of vote share. To up its chances of winning higher number of seats in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress, according to one survey, will have to win two of the three upcoming assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh. Winning the three state elections – considered as a semi-final before the grand finale next year – would be a major boost for the Congress, which has been reduced to power in just four states. A good showing in state elections would also help the Congress negotiate for seats in 2019 for a grand alliance from a position of strength.
According to a survey conducted by CVOTER and ABP News recently, the BJP would lose all three state assembly elections to the Congress in Rajasthan, MP and Chhattisgarh. The survey predicts that the Congress would win a clear majority in the three states: 117 out of 230 seats in MP, 130 of 200 seats in Rajasthan and 54 out of 90 seats in Chhattisgarh. On the other hand, the BJP would manage to win only 106, 57 and 33 seats in the three states, respectively. In terms of vote share, the Congress is projected to win 42 per cent votes against 40 per cent for the BJP in MP, 51 per cent votes in Rajasthan against the BJP’s 37 per cent and 40 per cent in Chhattisgarh against 39 per cent to the BJP.
While all the surveys are unanimous that Modi’s political invincibility still continues, they don’t see the BJP making any significant gains in terms of vote share as compared to 2014 when it had a vote share close to 31 per cent. The surveys have also not factored in the possibility of a likely alliance in UP between the SP, BSP and the Congress which could change the arithmetic of the 2019 elections. In 2014, UP had contributed 71 seats to BJP’s overall tally of 282 seats. So what has changed in the last eight months of 2018?
The impact of demonetisation and GST has had an adverse effect on the popularity of BJP as both decisions are reported to have done a lot of damage to the mass employment-generating informal sector. Well-entrenched agriculture distress and twin impact of demonetisation and GST having caused disenchantment in areas where informal sector has significant presence are said to be reasons for considerable erosion in BJP’s support in smaller cities, towns and rural areas. The growing index of opposition unity in almost all states is also a major negative for the ruling party. Therefore, the outcome of the 2019 polls will depend on who forms the more formidable coalition.
A L I Chougule is an independent senior journalist.